Wednesday, April 05, 2006
European Commission gives mixed signals

On 4 April, the European Commission gave a confused impression with two moves that take opposite directions. Firstly, it decided to send official requests for information on national legislation restricting the supply of sport betting services to seven Member States; Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden. On the same day, it presented a revised proposal for a Directive on Services, in which it removed its previously included provisions to open up the European gambling market.

The start of the procedures against Member States is controversial and has been postponed for a long period. It comes one month after the vote by the European Parliament to keep gambling out of the Internal Market Directive on Services. It is also a controversial decision as 23 out of 25 member states have already made it known that gambling services should not be harmonised in the EU under these proposals.

In its press release, the European Commission states that it: “…wishes to verify whether the measures in question are compatible with Article 49 of the EC Treaty which guarantees the free movement of services. This decision relates only to the compatibility of the national measures in question with existing EU law, and only to the field of sports betting. It does not touch upon the existence of monopolies as such, or on national lotteries. Nor does it have any implications for the liberalisation of the market for gambling services generally, or for the entitlement of Member States to seek to protect the general interest, so long as it this is done in a manner consistent with EU law ie that any measures are necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory. The letters of formal notice are the first step in an infringement procedure under Article 226 of the EC Treaty. The Member States in question have two months in which to respond. The Commission hopes that the answers it receives will lead to an early and satisfactory resolution of the matter.

Formally, the European Commission has the obligation to respond to complaints by citizen and companies about market restrictions in the EU. In the gambling sector, some commercial betting operators have developed the strategy to try and open up restricted markets through litigation and complaints procedures, both at national and EU level. Although they have failed to convince the vast majority of Member States, the European Parliament and most of the judges, they seem to have found some support in the EU executive. It has to be seen whether the latter will take the matter further than launching inquiries. For the moment, it did succeed it leaving a confused impression.

The European press releases can be found at: (infringements) and (services)